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In 2020, the Solar Orbiter satellite departed Earth atop an Atlas V launcher and approach the Sun to within 62 solar radii or 42 million km, closer than any spacecraft has ever been before. From this vantage point, it will be ideally positioned to observe our star at unprecedented resolution (70 km/pixel) and analyse its heliosphere in fine detail. Solar Orbiter will also acquire imagery and data from the Sun’s polar regions and on the side not visible from Earth. The main aim of these measurements will be to identify the underlying processes driving the solar wind, the stream of particles continuously escaping the Sun.
To accomplish this goal, Solar Orbiter will combine in-situ measurements in the satellite’s immediate environment with remote-sensing observations.
Solar Orbiter is a mission of ESA’s Cosmic Vision 2015-2025 programme. ESA oversaw development of the satellite, which was launched by NASA. CNES is involved in building 6 of Solar Orbiter’s 10 instruments. The agency is supplying the RPW instrument in partnership with the LESIA space and astrophysics instrumentation research laboratory at the Observatoire de Paris. The Solar Orbiter mission got underway in 2020 and will operate for 7½ years, with a possible extension for a further 2.4 years.